Abstract: Practical wisdom is considered a multidimensional virtue of enduring relevance to medicine. Though it has received increasing attention in recent years, proposed frameworks for practical wisdom can differ, and little is known about how medical students and physicians describe its dimensions and relevance.
Methods: We used structured interviews, employing open-ended and closed-ended questions, to describe how medical students and physicians understand practical wisdom and identify the kinds of clinical situations they believe require practical wisdom. We interviewed 102 participants at two US medical schools in 2021, comprising a voluntary response sample of 40 pre-clinical medical students and 40 clinical medical students and a purposive sample of 22 nominated physicians. Interviews were conducted by videoconference using a structured interview guide. Open-ended responses were coded using qualitative content analysis (directed and conventional) and tabulated; closed-ended responses were tabulated. Quotations provided qualita- tive illustrations, and frequencies were used for summative results.
Results: Participants considered practical wisdom clinically meaningful, broadly relevant and multidimensional. Most described it as deliberative, goal-directed, context- sensitive, integrated with ethics and marked by integrity and motivation to act. Many described it as experience-based, person-centred or problem-solving. Participants also selected an average of 15.6 (SD = 4.9) additional virtues as being essential for practical wisdom in medicine and described a broad range of clinical situations that require practical wisdom in medicine.
Conclusions: Participants described practical wisdom as a multidimensional capacity that entails deliberation, depends on a constellation of other virtues and is broadly applicable to medicine. Most agreed it is goal-directed and context-sensitive and involves ethics, integrity and motivation. Efforts to teach practical wisdom in medical education should clarify its dimensions and highlight its relationship to virtue ethics, professionalism, clinical judgement and the individualised care of patients as persons.